One of our favorite weekly articles to monitor so far this season has been Chad Ford’s “Tank Rank” over at ESPN. The idea is unique to the NBA and there is such a dance involved regarding making all the moves you have to without seeming too overt in the tanking process, while still appearing to have a shred of competitive integrity. This is partly why we find it so fascinating. Essentially, there is more effort put into perception than tangible success.
Of course we have to credit the owners and GMs. No one could possibly envy their job of having to spin something they know is obvious to any reasonable onlooker. But they do so with resolve, and some excitement, because losing games doesn’t bring a hot seat, only more jubilation about the future. But they have to hit on their darft pick, and this is the year to hit!
The “Tank Rank” was not as relevant earlier in the year for the Raptors and we didn’t pay as close of attention. We expected some big things from them. Now we don’t and the rank is as pertinent to the Raptors as Jonas Valanciunas’s development is. And in both cases, they better not screw it up.
The problem is, as Ford mentions in the rank, that the trade of Rudy Gay has not had quite the effect GM Masai Ujiri figured it would. The Raptors are 3-1 since the trade and have looked far better off focusing on big men Valanciunas and Amir Johnson, just like we asked for when the objective was winning games.
Now that they are going to be a seemingly permanent fixture in the “Tank Rank,” we need to take a closer look at how the Raptors look in relation to other teams, and also what further moves might be necessary to “compete” with other, more blatant tankers. Going forward, we will update and analyze our reaction to the rank every couple of weeks.
As it stands now, the Raptors are fourth in the rank and clearly designated by Ford as “tanking,” as opposed to “tanking?” or “rebuilding” or “trying.” He claims that Kyle Lowry, rumored to be on the move since the Rudy Gay trade, will be an easy move and that there are a number of suitors. We wrote last week that Uriji should temper his expectations about expecting a first-round pick this year—it seems like teams are assuming that any pick inside the top 15 is going to equal an All-Star; we are certain they are in for a rude awakening.
A first-round pick in future years should not be out of the question, although the Knicks cannot assume a pick in 2018 will be sufficient for a point guard superior to what they have now. We have faith he will be moved and for a good package. But it begs the question: What domino effect will a Lowry trade have in regards to the rank, and how other teams perceive what would seem like a complete overhaul? Would this put everyone on the table?
Ford also says, in a more challenging endeavor, that the Raptors are interested in moving DeMar DeRozan. Color us a little skeptical on this. While DeRozan is having a career year, we get the feeling he has a league-wide reputation as something of Gay-lite—a volume shooter that does not make the players around him better—and, thus, would not have the kind of trade value that would make for a prudent deal. As we have stated before, we are high on DeRozan and feel that, at age 24,he should be a key piece to any rebuilding effort. But until talks heat up for DeRozan, we are not going to put a lot of stock in the rumor.
Apparently Valanciunas is “nearly untouchable,” which is a bit of a deviation from the “untouchable” status of a couple weeks back, but Uriji is still making it clear that it would take a bounty to get him. And it should take that much; Valanciunas is the type of player you hope to get with a high pick. What does giving up on him say? It tells us that they would be selling for the sake of selling, drumming up massive interest in a draft and free agency period only to be let down when ego and bombast are trumped by reality. But we trust Uriji won’t let it happen. The track record, which is all we have to go on, is simply too sound.
Amir Johnson, who Uriji says it would take a high pick to get, may be a different story, though. He has been great since Rudy Gay left (and since we stated the offense should revolve around him in our “opposites” column) and may be a prime target to sell high. It may present the type of value that we feel DeRozan doesn’t have around the league. If Uriji feels like Johnson, who is probably not in the Raptors long-term plans, is helping them win a few too many games, it is safe to assume that he fate is likely sealed.